Ed Miliband is right to ‘weaponise’ the NHS
For two weeks running at Prime Minister’s Questions David Cameron has laid into Ed Miliband for saying that he planned to ‘weaponize’ the NHS as part of his general election campaign. Cameron described it as disgusting and proclaimed, as he often has, that the NHS is too important to be a political football and should be taken out of politics. Ed Miliband has since haphazardly gone on the defensive on these comments, neither owning nor disowning the word ‘weaponise’. This kind of hesitance is responsible for so many losing faith in him and in Labour. The NHS is fundamentally political, and it is entirely right that Miliband ‘weaponize’ it. It is Cameron who is being disgusting, disgustingly deceitful. He knows full well that taking the NHS ‘out of politics’ is the most political thing anyone could do.
The NHS is obviously political, it is ultimately run by the government, its just very strange to suggest otherwise. What does ‘weaponization’ amount to that is so disgusting to Cameron? Perhaps it is the suggestion that his failings when it comes to the NHS are a reason not to re-elect him? Perhaps it is the absurd idea that the future of the NHS is a relevant factor when considering who to vote for in May? Indeed what is this alternative route of ‘taking the NHS out of politics’? Do we allow unelected, unaccountable managers to run it without government oversight? That is disgusting. The NHS should serve the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, and the way to make sure it does is ensure that it is overseen by people accountable to the public.
There is nothing more political than taking something out of politics. Doing so suggests that an opinion or situation shouldn’t be challenged. That the status quo must be accepted. Whether you agree with it or not, the agreement by the three main Westminster parties to accept 0.7% of GDP aid budget has effectively taken it out of politics. No discussion is permitted, party leaders simply reaffirm their commitment to it. As a result that do not make the case for it. They do not talk about the UK’s role in global development, they do not talk about how damaging it would be for the UK’s recognition and respect internationally were we to renege on this commitment. This is why it has such a big impact when someone like Nigel Farage comes on to challenge it – there is no effective counter argument in the political arena. Indeed, one might say much the same thing about the EU consensus amongst the party leaderships during the last decade and a half, until the UKIP surge has jolted them from their complacent slumber.
Amongst the most important things that Feminism has taught us is that what is treated as ‘political’ is mailable, and what really is political is everything. The slogan ‘the personal is political’ is about breaking down the barrier to open political discussion of what goes on within the home, with marriage and in the bedroom. The point is that these things were always political, but that treating them as non-political was a political ploy by men to maintain a position of power and maintain the status quo – and what could be more political than that.
Take as another example the discussions going on in Britain as to how to react to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Any such attack is bound to be a cause of reflection upon our national security arrangements, whether security forces have enough powers and enough resources. Here too we occasionally see calls for such important issues to ‘not be kicked around like a political football’, instead favouring frank, sincerely, sober and apolitical discussion of the best way to keep us safe. In particular, the claim that these discussions must kowtow to those in the security establishment with the full information about the scale and nature of the terror threat the UK faces. This approach to security legislation has received consensus from those at the top of the British political system, and has seen a steady increase in security powers and a concerning erosion of civil liberties.
Taking the NHS out of politics is a cynical piece of electioneering which threatens to remove the very thing which will ensure it serves the British people, and that is its accountability to the voters. Ed Miliband should own the fact that he is weaponizing the NHS. That would be honest and admirable. The NHS is a major concern for voters, all Miliband is saying is that he and Labour will campaign aggressively on behalf of these people. In just the same way Cameron could say he is weaponizing the economy. Again it is a major concern for voters, and Cameron is campaigning aggressively on behalf of these voters. Westminster politics is combative and major issues are continually weaponized by politicians, and that is precisely what should happen in a democracy. Taking something out of politics is the most political and least democratic thing anyone can do. No subject should be taken off the table as an inappropriate issue to campaign on. Westminster might be full of problems, but the fact that politicians campaign on issues and attempt to beat other parties by doing so is not one of them. I can only think that if Ed took weaponization more seriously he might be a more popular leader.